New owners to take reins at Rutland fitness club

David Gold Photo

David Gold Photo / Dan and Leslie Doenges.

By Bruce Edwards

When Dan Doenges graduated from Assumption College with a degree in marketing, his first job was at a bank.

But it didn’t take him long to figure out a career as a banker wasn’t for him. So he returned to Rutland with his wife, Leslie, and found a job that matched his passion for athletics and physical fitness. And it just so happens that job turned up at the same place he worked while a student at Rutland High School.

That was seven years ago. Today, Dan and Leslie Doenges are about to become the new owners of Vermont Sport & Fitness.

For Frank Dorsky, who hired Doenges as a tennis instructor and a kind of jack-of-all-trades, it was time to retire and pass on the business to someone who shared his vision.

“I’m 74, and I thought seven years ago when we kind of created this plan … I thought it would be the right time (to retire) and I think it is, ” Dorsky said during a phone interview from his winter home in Florida. “It’s a good time for it.”

Not long after Doenges started working at the club, Dorsky approached him about his possible interest in eventually buying the business. Year-by-year that plan slowly evolved, and comes to fruition on Jan.1, when Vermont Sport & Fitness officially changes hands.

“So Frank has been mentoring me in business and all the things that are important to the club, and what makes Vermont Sport & Fitness what it is,” Doenges said. “I don’t think I’ve been more ready for anything in my entire life.”

The club occupies 39,000 square feet on Curtis Avenue. The ground floor is dedicated to strength and circuit training. There’s a spinning room, strength and conditioning room, and basketball court. There’s also a classroom dedicated to yoga and pilates.

The upper floor, which overlooks the three indoor tennis courts, has an assortment of cardio equipment, from treadmills and stationary bikes to ellipticals and stair-masters. There’s also a large fitness room for Zumba, strength training and group power sessions. During the warmer months, there are four outdoor tennis courts and a pool.

The Doenges, both in their early 30s, have some ideas about how to expand and improve services for members.

At the top of the list is nutrition. Leslie, who has a degree in nutrition from the University of Vermont, will be offering nutrition counseling, including diet and meal planning.

“I’m looking forward to taking this skill set that I have in this degree and putting it into something tangible that can make a difference for our members, provide an extra benefit for the club,” said Leslie, who also works as a dental assistant.

Dan said their vision is to improve upon what Dorsky started 22 years ago.

In addition to nutrition, they’re looking at more personal training and support.

“We feel if we treat everyone as an individual and we have that as a theme and as a goal,” Dan said, “then each person, we can adapt to their needs in a way that will give them the best chance for success.”

Success wasn’t a sure thing for Dorsky when he took a chance and purchased the property 22 years ago. The former club (Brookside Tennis) had gone out of business, so he basically started Vermont Sport & Fitness from scratch.

“So we created something out of nothing,” said Dorsky, a native of Cleveland, who has a doctorate with an emphasis on sports psychology from Kent State University.

Dorsky also has an avid interest in fitness and tennis. He has played in numerous amateur tournaments and has a teaching certificate from the United States Professional Tennis Association.

With a passion for tennis and fitness, Dorsky said he and his wife, Jeanne, thought it was a smart career move to buy the property and start a fitness club.

With two kids of their own, the Doenges are also looking at more family-oriented activities without changing the culture of the club.

To remain competitive with other clubs, Leslie said they “try to stay current with how the fitness industry is evolving.”

Running a tennis and fitness club takes more than a couple of people. So the club has a staff of 25 to 30 mostly part-time employees.

Dorsky said he’s most proud of leaving behind “a viable business” for the new owners.

“I’m very confident that Dan can do the job well, and with his youthful energy … and make the club better and better.”

Editor’s note: Bruce Edwards is a member of Vermont Sport & Fitness.